2424 Islam

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Scott, P. D. (2000) Minding the Darkness: A Poem for
the Year 2000. New Directions, New York.
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Statement of Intention (1970) Alcheringa/Ethnopoe
tics 1(1): 1.

Islam

Khaled Fouad Allam

The birth of Islam coincided with radical change
in the anthropological and sociocultural situa
tion of Arab populations which, in about the
seventh century CE, had already been affected
by strong social tensions and by a number of
important religious upheavals. If pre Islamic
societies are generally to be considered as poly
theistic, the presence, since the beginnings of
Islam, of important Christian and Hebrew com
munities must not be understated and from
which elements of the Koran are taken. This
new religion, Islam whose etymology means
peace but also submission in the sense of
humankinds devotion to Gods word not only
changed the extant religious language, but also
deeply modified the social and anthropological
structures of the peoples of the Arab peninsula.
In analyzing the structures of Islamic societies it
is clear how such an event resulted from the
demand for change in a social universe the
tribal and clanic world which claimed to be
structured differently from the extant one, and
which was crossed by deep tensions and crises.
According to Islamic tradition, God chose
a man, Mohammad, who through the angel
Gabriels revelation (or tanzil, which means
Word descent) would become Gods messenger
and prophet. The God of Abraham reveals
definitively in the Word, the recitation of
which corresponds to the term Quran in Ara
bic, the language that, according to the Koran,
God chose because of its clarity. This point
represents an essential element in the definition
of Islamic identity: the new religious conscience
of Islam involves a linguistic and semantic
specificity represented by the Arab language.
In this way, signs and symbols define the whole
religious universe of Islam and they are the
foundations of Islamic dogma, the Igaz al
quran (the inimitability of the Koran): If all
the humans and all the Jinns banded together
in order to produce a Quran like this, they
could never produce anything like it, no matter
how much assistance they lent one another
(Koran, Surah XVII, verse 88).
The notion of inimitability refers to the
notions of fascination and amazement: the
divine language interrogates man, as the creator
asks him to witness the eternity of his mystery
(gaib) and the mystery of creation. An essential
element of Islamic theology is the mystery
behind the revelation of God, who does not
allow man to attain such knowledge. Divine
revelation in Islam is inseparable from Gods
messenger or rasul, Mohammads path, which
is divided into two phases, each corresponding
to a collection of Surahs (chapters) of the
Koran. The first phase, from the beginning of
the revelation until 622, is called the Meccan
period: it reflects the image of a solitary man,
marginalized from Meccan society because of
the revelation. The Meccan Surahs of this first
period deal with a deeply spiritual, eschatologi
cal Islam an Islam which could be referred to
as being an interior Islam. In the second period,
from 622 to 632, a change in the function of the
Korans message occurs: Islam appears and
develops in Medina, where the first Muslim
community is born and where individual reli
gious identity becomes collective. The cycle of
the revelation continues in Medina and the Pro
phet Mohammad dies in 632, leaving a society in
the making.
The Korans text, composed of 114 Surahs, is
present in the memory of the Prophets compa
nions (the first four caliphs) and in the commu
nitys memory, but it is not yet structured, given
that their culture is based on oral traditions and
not the written word. This explains the reason
for the great disagreements behind the authen
ticity of some verses and forms of translitera
tion. In fact, any passage which passes from oral
to written form creates a filter that has conse
quences for an orally revealed religion.
The present text of the Koran, comprising
114 chapters, was codified during the age of
caliph Utman (d. 656). His decision to arrive